The tempestuous life of 20th-century America’s archprogressive, Dorothy Day (1897-1980).
Loughery (Dagger John: Archbishop John Hughes and the Making of Irish America, 2018) and Randolph (Amelia Earhart, 1990, etc.) provide a serviceable and largely balanced look at one of America’s most complex and socially influential figures. The authors begin with a protracted exploration of Day’s young adulthood, a period rife with cross-county moves, love affairs, and interactions with World War I–era radicals. Her development as a writer, thinker, and activist is intertwined with sometimes-salacious tales of her relationships with intelligent but immature men who too often caused her great pain. Eventually, Day’s plunge into Catholicism redirected her passions while confusing her friends and family. The authors move on to discuss Day’s encounter with mystic wanderer Peter Maurin and the ensuing creation of the Catholic Worker, at once a publication, a collection of communal homes, and a way of life. Moving through the militant 1930s and the desperate 1940s, the authors do a good job of locating Day’s life and work in the midst of a wide variety of colorful characters and contentious controversies. Day was a polarizing figure seemingly with everyone: the church, the government, and fellow activists alike. This reality did not abate as the century matured, though Day’s name moved on from being an FBI target to having near-celebrity status. Though Loughery and Randolph’s work does not provide the personal depth of Kate Hennessy’s exceptional Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty (2017), they do provide an excellent record of Day’s involvement in the progressive circles of her time. The authors touch on countless personalities within Day’s sphere of influence and use her as a focal point in their exploration of issues ranging from homelessness to homosexuality and historical events ranging from Sacco and Vanzetti to the Spanish Civil War.
An intriguing glance at a complex and countercultural personality.